A First-Person Perspective on In-Person Events in Columbia SC

The team at Experience Columbia SC is here, ready to welcome you back, and you can rest assured that our region is putting your safety first. Because of exceptional protocols, facilities like the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center have been able to successfully host safe events since June 2020. 

But don’t just take our word for it. The South Carolina Funeral Directors Association offers their perspective on why they chose Columbia to move forward with an in-person event in 2021, the positive feedback from their attendees and the measures in place that made them feel completely safe.

As Columbia SC has reopened in phases over the past year, our restaurants, hotels, venues and attractions have worked hard to make sure safety measures are above par. From limiting indoor capacities, providing hand sanitizer, installing sneeze guards, requiring daily staff health screenings, adhering to the City of Columbia mask ordinance, taking a local safety pledge, following CDC cleaning guidelines and more, rest assured that the Columbia region is putting safety first. 

The SCFDA has gathered at the CMCC since the building first opened 17 years ago. When asked what keeps their group coming back each year, SCFDA says, “The location is great, the rooms are perfect, hotels are close and above all, the staff. The CMCC staff are some of the best – they communicate and are always willing to make adjustments.”

The group hosted their 33rd Mid-Winter Conference & Expo in February of 2020, a mere month before the COVID-19 pandemic struck the United States. Having been able to successfully host their event last year, they found themselves in the position this year to evaluate whether they could safely move forward with hosting an in-person experience. 

“Since March of 2020, events, family life, church, weddings, funerals, etc. have either been canceled, postponed or rescheduled,” SCFDA said. “Our board felt strongly that we needed to move forward and with the precautions that the CMCC has in place, we felt we could make our 34th Mid-Winter Conference & Expo a reality.” 

The convention center reopened in June 2020, becoming one of the first convention centers in the country to do so. The important position the facility was in to be leaders in the industry and show other convention centers how they too could reopen safely was taken with the utmost care. Behind the scenes, invoking the mission of safety requires a partnership between the CMCC and the visitors to be successful. The staff created and implemented a written COVID-19 mitigation plan, including all CDC guidelines and municipal and state laws clients and attendees must adhere to. The events team recalculated all spaces within the building to meet social distance standards for capacity limits. New building access rules include face coverings, limited entrances, specific crowd flow, health screenings upon arrival and potentially longer registration times. Stage set ups are larger, equipment is never shared and seating arrangements are made in smaller numbers. Food service focuses on individual servings, eliminating shared foods or utensils and staggered food service times may be required depending on the size of the event. Cashless payments are the preferred method for concessions and merchandise. 

The CMCC has also applied for Global Biorisk Advisory Council’s Star Facility Accreditation, which will validate the effective implementation of the industry’s highest standards for cleaning and disinfection. The sanitation program includes cleaning high touch areas like doors, elevators/escalators and restrooms, among others, frequently throughout the day. Disinfected spaces are sealed closed with tape identifying the date and time of their last cleaning. The HVAC system has been outfitted with MERV 13 filters and sprayers are used to efficiently disinfect rooms and equipment. The CMCC and Experience Columbia SC have also teamed up with GBAC on a region-wide accreditation initiative that will set Columbia SC apart from other destinations when it comes to health and safety standards.

As the convention center staff and clients both understand their roles in executing events, visitors are confident they are in a safe environment. “The CMCC team gave us plenty of notice as to what had to be done on their end and what was expected of us and our attendees to safely host our event,” SCFDA said. “We had a walkthrough prior to the event where they went over all the protocols in place – masks to be worn inside the building and anyone entering the facility must go through a temperature check, to name a couple – and everyone was on board. It was all about keeping everyone safe and that’s what’s most important.” 

The attendees, many of whom fell under Phase 1A of vaccination rollout and were already vaccinated by the time of the event, applauded SCFDA for forging ahead with a safe in-person structure this year. 

The association used this year’s event as a measuring stick of sorts against which to gauge confidence levels in moving forward with other in-person events. To other meeting planners who find themselves at the same crossroads of virtual, in-person or hybrid, the SCFDA encourages them to trust the leadership the CMCC staff exhibits through their protocols. “Do what they ask of you and host your event,” they said. “From beginning to end, the employees at CMCC are gracious and accommodating.”